Update (September 19): TRAI has extended the deadline for this consultation from September 21 to October 19. 

The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India on August 20 put out a consultation paper where it signaled that it was considering a change in the definition of broadband. Such a redefinition would be significant, as the current benchmark is a measly 512 kilobits per second, which is ten times lower than Bangladesh’s, and fifty times lower than the US’s.

The redefinition would also prevent fixed line broadband providers from slowing their customers’ speeds to a crawl if they hit their data caps or Fair Usage Policy allowances. ISPs are not allowed to call their services “broadband” if the speeds they provide, even after users hit data caps, are slower than 512Kbps.

Now that mobile broadband providers are usually able to provide such speeds without much issue, the regulator may be a little less willing to relent to broadband providers’ resistance to such a redefinition.

The consultation paper is a sweeping look at broadband penetration and quality issues, something we argued in July was badly needed.

TRAI’s questions

The regulator’s questions cover a wide range of issues plaguing broadband penetration in India.

  • Defining broadband: The regulator asks what the new speeds for defining broadband should be, and whether these definitions should apply to mobile networks and upload speeds as well. The consultation also asks if there should be different categories of broadband defined.
  • Measurement: The regulator asks if there should be a system in place for measuring broadband speeds in the country.
  • Right of way: Right of way issues are one of the reasons why deployment of fibre and other network equipment even in bigger cities has been slow. In its consultation, TRAI asks if rules it framed in 2016 address RoW issues, and what governance models can deal with these problems.
  • Ducts: Ducts allow fibre to be deployed in buildings with a reasonable amount of protection from the elements. TRAI asks how fibre ducts can be encouraged and abuse of exclusivity in duct access can be prevented. The regulator also asks if an e-marketplace should be established to share and lease duct space, dark fibre, and towers.
  • Penetration: TRAI asks why there is low demand for and penetration of wired broadband in India, what policy measures could improve the situation, and why growth of Fiber to the Home (FTTH) has been slow. It also asks why Local Cable Operators aren’t providing broadband services, and why Indian telcos do not widely use Fixed Wireless Access (FWA) technology for broadband.
  • Speeds and contention ratios: TRAI asks why broadband speeds suffer in the country, and whether contention ratios (which measure how many subscribers use a single connection) need to be enforced and disclosed more closely. On mobile broadband speeds, TRAI asks if more regulation is needed to prevent network congestions at crowded areas.
  • Standards for consumer devices: In what goes slightly beyond its mandate, TRAI asks if consumer devices should be held to network accessibility standards, and if doing so would affect their affordability.

TRAI is accepting responses to this consultation till October 19, and counter-comments until November 2. Responses can be viewed, when uploaded, here.